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Our foster care recruitment team is often asked if pet owners can become foster carers, and the answer is 'Yes!’

Entering foster care can be a very traumatic experience for a child or young person; Berry Street foster carers play an important role in ensuring these children have a safe, stable home environment.

Pets are an important part of many homes, including our foster carer households. Whether it's a dog, cat, or even a goldfish, pets can bring great joy to both adults and the children in their care.

Many children and young people in foster care have experienced abuse and neglect and may have trust issues. Pets have been shown to support wellbeing and can even help build trust between carers and children and young people in their care.

Research shows that pets can help children navigate the challenges of settling into a new foster home. Children often identify the family dog as ‘safe’ and seek its comfort in emotional distress. Pets offer no judgement and unconditional love and can help the child to process what they are feeling, acting as a bridge between the child and their carer.

If you’re a pet owner and interested in becoming a Berry Street foster carer, we encourage you to start your journey today.

Here are our four top tips for introducing the child or young person in your care to your family pet:

1. You know your pet best

When it comes to your pet, you know it best – its personality, how it behaves around children and new people and what it likes and dislikes.

To create a positive and safe introduction between the pet and child, it’s all about being prepared and going slow.

Here are a few things to consider to best manage the first introduction and early interactions:

  • Does your pet need more space? If so, create a quiet zone your dog can retreat to if they need space.
  • Are they a large breed that might be scary to young children? If so, have the dog seated or lying down the first time you introduce them.
  • Will they be over-excited, nippy, bark or jump? If so, put your dog on a lead the first time, or put a barrier (like a chair) between the dog and the child.

2. Talk about it – and get involved

Sit down with your foster child and share what your pet likes, and how they like to be petted, picked up or engaged with (some don’t like eye contact). Also, talk about why they don’t like it, that could be things like people coming over the top of them, face-to-face contact (most dogs don’t like cuddles and kisses from people they don’t know well) or touching of ears or paws.

Also, discuss any routines, especially those that a child or young person can be involved in such as feeding, walks and grooming. It is great to model appropriate

behaviours such as petting and how to play. Be sure to seek input from the child about any concerns, fears, or reservations they may have.

3. Set and communicate boundaries

We all need downtime, pets included! Establish some ground rules like not interrupting when a pet is feeding or sleeping. Your home may have other boundaries such as no pets on furniture or in beds or even confined to certain spaces overnight or when no one is home.

Be sure you communicate these boundaries and that a child or young person understands why they are both important but also how they help the pet to feel a sense of routine, structure and predictability.

4. Supervise all interactions

Whenever a child and a pet are introduced, the interaction needs to be supervised. Continue to talk about what your pet does and doesn’t like and encourage that relationship to grow.

Become a foster carer and support a local child

Childhood is a journey. Partner with Berry Street to support a child or young person on theirs.

As a Berry Street foster carer, you’ll be a part of a team that is committed to supporting children and young people who cannot live safely at home. By providing a safe and nurturing place to live – you'll be there for them at a crucial moment in their life.